Belle lay in bed listening to the rain. It was winter and the rain had been falling for 10 straight days. Boots, her cat was firmly ensconced between her legs and it felt comfortable in that “I don’t dare move kind of way” which seems to be part and parcel of with living with a cat. When she first agreed to take care of him because her elderly neighbour was in hospital she quickly determined that she would establish boundaries for how long she would care for him and where he would go in the house. Boots would sleep on the couch and she would sleep in the peace and quiet of her room as she had for the last five years since Ted moved out.
But nothing goes according to plan and Boot’s first night in the house was no different than any other misbegotten intention. As it turned out the second, the third and every other night after that didn’t go so well either. At first Boots would stand outside her door and meow in short crisp adorable mews as if to say, “Please just let me in there” and then quickly, very quickly his chatter turned to gutteral, primal screams that went on for hours on end. Belle thought for sure that her neighbours would hear and might wonder why she was beating her new ward. Little did they know.
Still his nocturnal cries outside her door, indicated to Belle that Boots was traumatized. In the first few nights Belle would pick him up, calm him down by holding him across her shoulder rocking up and down and then place him in his bed as she once had with her children. Then quickly she would run back to her room, only to find that Boots had run after her. Once on the other side of the door she leapt into her single bed, drew the covers to her chin and waited until Boots started up again.
Which he did night after night. Boots was exhausting her and she longed for old Mr. McCullough to recover. And her not-so-secret worry which she had discussed somewhat drunkenly with her girlfriends at lunch was that old Mr. McCullough would knock off leaving her with Boots.
But over the weeks Boots began to settle in. Instead of hours of feral crying he began throwing himself against the door which he did with astounding athleticism for a cat who was both obese and middle aged. Just when she thought she couldn’t stand it any more Mr. McCullough died and nobody came around to claim Boots.
As she lay in bed at night considering her options, her mind drifted back to the day the neighbour boys had come over to remove the double bed she and her husband had shared for 20 years. It’s not that she had started out with a bad marriage. In fact it was quite the opposite. When she married Ted, she was. what she thought anyways, madly in love with him. The first five years were great and then slowly somewhere a small chill, a tiny disatisfaction set in which in the past would go away as they talked through their small differences but which eventually grew to many small indifferences that became insurmountable and intractable.
The divide between them in their bed seemed so wide it felt like a continent had to be crossed just to touch each other. Ted’s evacuation of their “boudoir” as she laughingly used to call it, happened slowly and started simply with him watching tv downstairs and falling asleep from time to time, to him spending most nights in the basement and finally a permanent move when he got a wall sized television with a satellite dish. Soon after that he ran off with her best friend’s youngish mother and spent the last years volunteering doing god knows what in Latin America. A stunning difference from the life he shared with her in which he seemed married to his television and deadened by a job he inexplicably couldn’t leave.
She could still hear Boots against the door. “For the love of god.” she thought feeling dry mouthed and dehydrated. She had gone out with girlfriends for dinner and had drunk an injudicious fourth glass of wine which was partly the result of being with her best friend who remained her best friend but awkwardly so after the ‘incident’. And then she drove home. And now she lay in bed drunk (having had another drink when she got home) thinking about Ted and now Boots. She picked up the glass of water beside her bed and drank it in one go.
The last time, she thought to herself, anyone had been in this bed with her was over 2 years ago. Two and half years after Ted had moved out. She smiled and cringed all at the same time. The single bed was some kind of meaningless fuck you to Ted which now seemed entirely ridiculous. Especially now when she thinks back on her one and only one night stand which involved a great deal of overwrought gymnastics and climbing back up from the floor and into the arms of her lover who’s name and face she can no longer place.
As she listened to Boots throwing himself against the door, she thought of old Mr. McCullough and how he had doted on Boots whom he had inherited from his grandson. How Mr. McCullough was a gracious man who kept entirely to himself but seemed happy to chat about Boots whenever he had the chance. How Boots did this, how Boots needed that. She thought it odd how this quiet man seemed to come to life when he talked about a cat. And until just now she never quite got it because she didn’t care for animals. It’s not that she disliked them she just never really wanted the additional hassle even when her kids and Ted begged her to get a dog or a cat.
What the hell she thought as Boots persisted with his banging at the door – there could be worse things and she got up and opened the door to Boots. He climbed onto the bed and snuggled between her legs as though it was the most natural place in the world for him to be. And then she reached into her side table and enjoyed one of the secret cigarettes she occasionally allowed herself and lay back and listened to the winter rain.